FDA approves first digital pill: What is it and what are the concerns?

Nov 14, 2017

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The Food and Drug Administration approved a first yesterday – a digital pill that that can tell doctors if and when a patient took the medicine.

As cited by the New York Times, millions of patients don’t take their prescribed medications, which adds up to nearly $100 billion a year in subsequent costs. The pill approved yesterday is an iteration of an antipsychotic. The way it would work is that a consenting patient would sign a consent form to give their doctors and up to four others electronic information about when and whether the pill was taken.

According to proponents, this tracking pill has the potential to save costs and help patients who are forgetful or noncompliant. But it also raises ethical concerns about consent, privacy and even efficacy, as illnesses such as schizophrenia often come with paranoia, and a tracking device might erode doctor-patient relations.

What are the benefits of a digital pill?  What are the ethical concerns and can they be circumvented?


William Shrank, M.D., chief medical officer of the University of Pittsburgh’s Medical Center Health Plan

Henry Greely, professor of law and director of the center for law and the biosciences at Stanford; he specializes in the ethical, legal and social repercussions of new biomedical technologies  

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